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Wish You Were Here, Subjunctive Mood!

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The subjunctive mood is a way of talking about unreal or conditional situations. You can also use it to describe desires, wishes, needs, or intentions. You’ll often see it as the format for idioms and expressions.

Unreal Situations

The most common use of the subjunctive mood to express imaginary or hypothetical situations. It’s often used in if clauses. To show the subjunctive mood, you should use were instead of was with singular as well as plural nouns. Take this sentence, for example: “If I were a teacher, I would be strict with my students.” This speaker imagines a hypothetical situation where they’re a teacher, when in reality they aren’t. As a side note, the indicative mood is what you use to express fact: “When I was a teacher, I was strict with my students.”

The subjunctive mood can also express unreal wishes like “I wish I were a bird so I could fly away.” This is a wish that the speaker knows can’t come true. “I wish the law were still in effect,” indicates a situation in the past that’s no longer true in the present.

William Shakespeare frequently used the subjunctive mood in his plays. For example, at the beginning of Twelfth Night, Duke Orsino says, “If music be the food of love, play on.” At the end of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Puck says, “Give me your hands, if we be friends / And Robin shall restore amends.”

Suggestions, Requests, and Demands

You can also use the subjunctive mood to express suggestions, requests, demands, and other hypothetical ideas. These statements use that clauses followed by the simple form of a verb (which is the infinitive without to). For example, “I suggest that you arrive early.” Here, that is followed by the simple form of the verb arrive. The that isn’t a requirement. “I suggest you arrive early,” also uses the subjunctive mood. This time the word that is implied rather than said.

Statements of Necessity and Importance

The subjunctive mood can also show importance, necessity, and urgency. These statements consist of it is followed by that and the simple form of a verb. Common adjectives in these expressions include important, urgent, and essential. For example, “It’s essential that you vote in the next election.” Here, It’s essential stresses the importance of voting.

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